After electoral victory, we intend to direct six questions at a referendum
We wish to see Mahinda Rajapaksa becoming country’s leade
Former Economic Development Minister and founder of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), Basil Rajapaksa said in an interview with Daily Mirror that he would not differentiate voters based on their ethnic identity. He expressed thoughts on the presidential election and bilateral talks with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) ahead of preparations for the presidential poll as the main strategist of the SLPP-led political force.
- No reason whatsoever for SLFP to reject an alliance with us
- I won’t differentiate voters based on their ethnic identity
- People are concerned over whether presidential polls will be delayed
Q Certain names have surfaced as potential candidates for presidential polls. What are the latest developments in your party as far as the elections are concerned?
People are concerned over and gripped by uncertainty as it looms around the possibility of conducting long-overdue provincial council elections. In fact, the government postponed elections to local authorities for more than two and a half years. The elections have not been conducted to six provincial councils which stand dissolved at the moment. There is no sign of plans to conduct polls. In the meantime, the court ruled out the possibility to conduct a parliamentary election for four and a half years.
Against this backdrop, people believe that only presidential polls – scheduled to be held in December – would be conducted as constitutionally stipulated. It is feared whether the government would postpone this too; which would be by enacting the 20th Amendment proposed by the JVP. People are anxious over the lack of clarity. Earlier, there had been no instances where elections were postponed for an indefinite period of time. There was only one occasion in which elections were postponed through a referendum.
We are yet to get confirmation on whether the presidential election would be conducted on time. This is our target. We brace for our victory.
In one aspect, we consolidate the organisational structure of our party alongside like-minded parties. We also work for broadbasing our political camp. It is none other than a member of our party who will be fielded as the presidential candidate. We will accommodate onboard as many political parties and forces as possible. An organisational structure is fundamental for electoral victory. We require a structure that operates with discipline and restraint until the very moment election results are announced. In the absence of it, we cannot win in spite of public support. Thirdly, we need to have a proper vision and mission to fulfil people’s aspirations rather than working according to diktats of the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund
(IMF) when in power.
Q You spoke about ‘uncertainty’ over conducting presidential polls on time. Do you see any purported attempt to postpone elections?
Going by what appears in the media virtually on a daily basis, people are doubtful whether elections will be conducted. They fear whether polls will be delayed by incorporating the 20th Amendment. The actions of the government leave scope for such doubts. People are concerned over whether presidential polls will be delayed in the same tactful way the government put off local government and provincial council elections. It is not only the ordinary people but politicians like us too who feel the same.
Q Do you believe the Govt. will truly attempt to enact 20A during this period of time seeking to abolish executive presidency?
We face such a risk. The JVP might have moved the 20th Amendment with good intentions, but we do not know whether it will be used as a ruse to delay presidential polls by some others with vested interests.
Q The basic idea of 20A is to abolish executive presidency. What is your party’s stance on this?
We will not spell out a definite position at this hour. Once we win the presidential elections, we intend to direct six questions to people at a referendum. That is regarding the nature of the Constitution needed for our country. People are given the chance to decide on a suitable model. We will devise a new Constitution depending on public responses to these queries. We remain with an open mind in this regard.
Q Former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa is widely-mentioned as the next candidate. Do you confirm it?
Our party, along with an overwhelming majority of people, wish to see former President Mahinda Rajapaksa becoming the country’s leader. The SLPP will like to see him elected as the President or the Head of State. However, the present government has placed a legal barrier for him to contest again. So we have assigned him to nominate a candidate on his behalf. If he handpicks someone from the Rajapaksa family, we have recommended one name. We need to get the support of like-minded parties for him.
We need to have a proper vision and mission to fulfil people’s aspirations rather than working according to diktats of the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund
Q Former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa is mentioned widely as the next candidate. Do you confirm it?
A Our party, along with an overwhelming majority of people, wish to see former President Mahinda Rajapaksa becoming the country’s leader
Q Is your party ready to accept President Sirisena as your candidate?
A I do not wish to comment on it at this moment and jeopardise talks
Q We noticed different opinions between your party and some others in the opposition. How will it affect the unity?
When Mahinda Rajapaksa was nominated as the presidential candidate in 2005, he was able to muster the support of some parties which were considered irreconcilable under normal circumstances. We tied up with the JVP and JHU. We were able to cobble together an alliance of divergent parties. That is why we managed to win the election at least by a narrow margin. History was rewritten after that victory in 2005.
Casting aside all differences, we have to get together. Last time, we saw how parties with contrasting outlooks such as the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) and the JVP arraigned against us.
Q Does that mean parties with contrasting policies will join hands with you at presidential polls?
Definitely! We are unofficially holding talks with a number of such parties which cannot otherwise be expected to join hands with us.
Q What is your position on talks between your party and SLFP?
We have to be very careful in presenting our views in this regard. I am not ready to harbour too much of hope. Likewise, I am not ready to lose hopes too. It is easy to forge a political alliance in view of a presidential election. There is one candidate. We can all agree on a common ground. In the selection of candidates for local government elections, we have to identify 9,000 candidates for a similar number of wards. It gives rise to complications. The selection process is a bit easier when it comes to provincial council and parliamentary elections.
The easiest situation in the formation of a political alliance prevails in view of presidential polls only. The SLFP has no reason whatsoever to reject an alliance with us.
Q Yet, the SLFP’s argument is that its leader President Maithripala Sirisena should be the candidate of the proposed alliance.
It is reasonable for it to lobby for its candidate whereas we do for ours. At the local government elections, we faced such internal squabbles. Some were even displeased with me.
Q But you cannot field two candidates at presidential polls. There has to be only one. What are your thoughts?
It is natural for such quarrels among like-minded parties. We find such problems not only among parties but also among individuals.
*Is your party ready to accept President Sirisena as your candidate?
I do not wish to comment on it at this moment and jeopardise talks. There can be presidential aspirants. In fact, there can be some such even within our own party.
Q International players are involved in Sri Lankan politics too. They were crucial last time. How do you manage them this time around?
The world has largely been globalised. Given our strategic location, it is vital for us to maintain healthy international relations in the implementation of our economic policies. We did so during the period between 2005 and 2010. That was why we were able to resurrect this country from terrorism. When we form a new government in the future, we wish to continue to pursue the same policy.
Q How do you see their influence on our electoral process this time?
There are certain influences. I think it won’t be like what it was last time. In fact, it should not happen. It is inappropriate for a foreign country to interfere in the internal affairs of another country. However, we are building new ties with the countries concerned without compromising on our sovereignty.
Q The UNP is also floating several names as potential candidates. How do you see the challenge emanating from the UNP for your side?
When we plan to contest an election, we have to gauge the potential of our opponents and assess their strengths. Yet, it should not be the sole focus. Whoever may be our rival, we can win!
Q The UNP says it has an edge over your party owing to overwhelming support from minority communities. What is your view?
That is the only option available for them to cash in on. It is proverbially similar to a person caught in water current clutching any straw coming his way. This is the only option available for all forces arraigned against us.
I do not want to differentiate voters based on their ethnic identities. We all face more or less the same problems. It is not that people of only one community suffer under the incumbent government. People belonging to all communities have to endure a lot of hardships under this administration. They are all disappointed and despondent.